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Top 50 world football players


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by Gabriele Marcotti


When my editor suggested putting together a list of the top 50 players, I greeted it with a healthy dose of apprehension. For journalists, such lists are often a lose-lose proposition, exposing you to ridicule and, occasionally, venom. Then again, they do generate debate and I like open-ended discussions as much as the next guy.


But before we get into it, here are the usual caveats. Making comparisons between different positions on the pitch is extremely difficult. Equally, while I do watch a lot of football (far more than is healthy), I haven?t watched most of these players week in, week out, for all ninety minutes. Then again, nobody has. So what you?re getting is a combination of personal assessment and, perhaps more importantly, the distilled views of people I talk to, from scouts to fellow journalists, from agents to managers, from club officials to, yes, ordinary fans.


I couldn?t even have begun to compile such a list without basic criteria. So here they are: imagine you are the manager of a totally new team. You have a certain budget to spend, but first you get one freebie, one guy to build your team around. You get him only for one season, the 2007-08 campaign, so you want to go for who can do the best job for you here and now, without worrying how good he can be down the line. Who would you choose? Who would your ?ringer? be? Have a look at all at my selection and then post yours in the comment box below.


50. Gary Neville (Manchester United)


A right back is admittedly an unusual choice, but Neville brings a host of intangibles to the table, from leadership to experience to consistency.


49. Clarence Seedorf (Milan)


You don?t win four Champions League crowns with three different clubs by accident. Perhaps he doesn?t turn it on as often as he once did, but his collection of rabbit?s feet alone makes him a worthwhile punt.


48. Jefferson Farfan (PSV Eindhoven)


He gives you trickery, pace and width, plus a host of goals (42 in the Dutch league over the past two years, a remarkable total for a guy who is not a genuine centre forward).


47. Phillip Lahm (Bayern Munich)


Little Mr Consistency runs all day and is a reliable source of goal-saving tackles and pinpoint crosses. Arguably the best left back around.


46. Rodrigo Palacio (Boca Juniors)


Probably the most reliable striker outside Europe. Something of a late bloomer, at 25 he?s really hitting his stride.


45. Diego (Werder Bremen)


Stick him in the hole behind two strikers and watch him weave his magic. He?s Kaka-lite (or, given his corpulent build, Kaka-heavy).


44. Rino Gattuso (Milan)


Steven Gerrard?s ghostwriters may not rate him, but most of the rest of us do. He runs himself into the ground, lifts the crowd and never gives up.


43. Hernan Crespo (Inter)


139 goals in his past 209 league starts in Serie A and the Premiership tell only part of the story. His movement up front is also straight out of a footballing textbook.


42. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Ajax)


By all accounts, he had a poor season - ?just? 21 league goals (down from 33 last year). That says it all. Comparisons to Marco van Basten may be wide of the mark, but he?ll get you goals.


41. Alessandro Nesta (Milan)


Now that he?s fit again, strikers beware: he?s unnaturally quick, strong in the tackle and about as athletic as anyone playing the game today.


40. Juninho Pernambucano (Lyons)


Elegant and creative, but also with an edge when necessary, he can light up any side. Plus, he?ll get his usual haul of set-piece goals.


39. ?Lucho? Gonzalez (Porto)


A box-to-box dervish who gets his fair share of goals and is a natural leader to boot. If only he played in a higher profile league...


38. Paul Scholes (Manchester United)


He redefined the role of attacking midfield player in the Premiership. The one concern is how well he would do away from his mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson.


37. Daniele De Rossi (Roma)


The poor man?s Roy Keane. Runs the midfield with intensity and intelligence and, like Keane, occasionally falls prey to the red mist (just ask Brian McBride).


36. Dejan Stankovic (Inter)


His long-range goals make the highlight reels, but his real contribution is the way he can effortlessly slot into any midfield position.


35. Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid)


It feels as if he?s been around forever, but he?s still just twenty-three. Tall, strong, bright, he can lead any line on his own.


34. David Beckham (Real Madrid/Los Angeles Galaxy)


Strip away the hype, and you have a respected leader who provides the most delicious service from wide positions. That alone is worth a few dozen goals a season.


33. Javier Zanetti (Inter)


Again, we?re dealing with intangibles here. The Inter skipper is a true leader, selfless and self-sacrificing, who can fill either full-back position or play in midfield. One of the most underrated players of the past decade.


32. Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)


Like a fine wine, he gets better with age. Reads the game exceptionally well and has developed a first-rate tactical awareness. Plus, he?d run through a brick wall for you.


31. Florent Malouda (Lyons)


Put him wide or put him in a diamond and the result is the same: a blend of quality and workrate that make him one of the most sought-after players on the market today.


30. John Terry (Chelsea)


He?s what God had in mind when he invented the British centre half. While Terry?s strength and courage win him plaudits, he is also an underrated distributor who reads the game very well.


29. Andrea Pirlo (Milan)


Possibly the best free-kick taker of the lot. He single-handedly brought back the role of the deep-lying playmaker. He?s the human metronome, the man who dictates his team?s rhythym and hardly ever gives the ball away.


28. Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid)


He?s a natural-made backbone to any side. Never stops running, wins every 50-50 and distributes the ball efficiently. A central defender?s best friend.


27. David Villa (Valencia)


Nobody in La Liga has scored more over the past two seasons. Quick, tricky and with an eye for goal, he will punish any opponent's error.


26. Michael Ballack (Chelsea)


OK, so he had a bad season. But he?s big, strong, outstanding in the air and can find the target from anywhere in the final third of the pitch.


25. Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham Hotspur)


He has the body of a bruiser and the touch of a virtuoso. And he looks like he?ll only get better. One of the more athletic big men on this list.


24. Andriy Shevchenko (Chelsea)


Like Ballack, he underachieved last year. But his contribution goes beyond goals (is it just a coincidence that Didier Drogba scored so much in the one season he played alongside the Ukrainian?) and with an injury-free pre-season under his belt, he?s worth taking a punt on.


23. Ronaldo (Milan)


Put your fat jokes to one side please. Consider instead the seven goals in twelve starts for Milan after leaving the Bernabeu asylum. Or the 82 goals in 117 starts he notched at Real in the seasons before the move. Now wash your mouth out with soap.


22. Didier Drogba (Chelsea)


The nice thing with him is that you can either leave him up on his own and lump balls to him or get him involved in the short-passing game. Either way, he?ll tie up entire opposing back fours on his own.


21. Carles Puyol (Barcelona)


A fine defender, but he ranks so high for the intangibles. Puyol is a natural-born leader, a manager?s dream, a guy who knows his limits and will leave his innards on the pitch for the club.


20. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)


Already a legend, and he only turned 26 last month. He?s an agile, fearless shot-stopper who, if Raul ever retires, will captain Real for years to come.


19. Daniel Alves (Seville)


Rarely does a single man dominate an entire flank the way he does. He combines the skills of a winger with the grit of an old-style hard man. His mere presence on the pitch forces the opposing side to readjust everything defensively.


18. Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)


If you could open his skull, you?d find the brain of a 30-year-old. Few players are so mature and so aware at such a young age, while also being totally undaunted by the task in front of them.


17. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Inter)


Admittedly, he?s one of the more volatile heads on this list. But creativity and vision like his rarely come in 6ft 5in packages, which makes him one of the most difficult players to defend against in the game.


16. Frank Lampard (Chelsea)


Let?s let the numbers do the talking, shall we? He has missed five league games in the past six seasons at Chelsea, while hitting double figures in league goals in each of the past four. Plus, he never slows down and is genuinely adored by his team-mates. What more do you want?


15. Ruud van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid)


And to think some numpties thought he was finished. He and Thierry Henry are the only strikers to have scored 20 or more goals in a major European league in five of the past six seasons. Put the ball anywhere near him and he?ll score. Simple as that.


14. Petr Cech (Chelsea)


Go ask Jose Mourinho and he?ll tell you that, had it not been for Steven Hunt?s boot, Chelsea would have won the treble this year. That?s how important Cech is. With a guy like him, you can just stick him in goal, stop worrying about the defensive aspect of the game and focus instead on the other end of the pitch.


13. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)


The highest ranked defender on this list and with good reason. He?s big, strong, fast and gifted. He held Real?s defence together this season, while chipping in at the attacking end as well. And he?s still only 21...


12. Thierry Henry (Arsenal)


Would have ranked higher, if not for the fact that he hasn?t played since early March and it remains to be seen in what condition he?ll return. Beyond that, he?s a sure thing. Not only does he scare the bejesus out of defenders, he is also one of the most prolific forwards around today. Had he been around all year, it?s unlikely the naysayers would have mocked Arsenal?s lack of finishing the way they did.


11. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)


Another who had a mediocre season (by his standards). You notice how important he is when he is not there. His workrate and ability are hard to replace and he is quickly becoming indispensable, both for club and country.


10. Francesco Totti (Roma)


His job is to create, not finish, and yet he won the European Golden Boot this season with 26 league goals: a total made all the more remarkable when you throw in the fact that he uncharacteristically missed six penalties along the way. (At least he made the ones that mattered in the World Cup.) That alone should get him on the list - his vision and phenomenal range of passing are bonuses.


9. Leo Messi (Barcelona)


Leave Maradona out of it for a minute. Focus instead on that when the ball is at his feet, unless you?re Nostradamus, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next. There is no legislating for unpredictability in football and Messi has bags of it. Plus, his 14 Liga goals last year show that he has added a healthy scoring dimension to his game as well.


8. Carlos Tevez (West Ham)


A single-minded winner, who has carried whole clubs on his back in Argentina, Brazil and England. Tevez?s contribution isn?t measured in just goals and assists, but in self-sacrifice and heroism. With a season of European football under his belt, there is no telling how much better he?s going to be next year.


7. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)


Speaking of heroics, he?s done it so many times, it?s easy to lose track. If Gerrard were a few inches taller and a few pounds more slight, we would marvel at his pure technical ability. Instead, we focus on his bruising workrate and other more obvious qualities. Don?t worry about fitting him into your side. Just do what Rafa does. Line up your nine other outfield players and let Gerrard do whatever he likes.


6. Gigi Buffon (Juventus)


Simply put, he?s a freak of nature. No man his size should be so athletic. His agility belies the laws of physics and he is about as unflappable as they come. Having a guy like him in your side means that defeats turn into draws and draws into victories. That alone is worth an extra ten to 15 points at the end of a season.


5. Michael Essien (Chelsea)


A one-man wrecking crew. Is there anything he can?t do? You could probably let the rest of the team go off for a fag break in the middle of the game and let him man the fort in midfield. Terrifyingly gifted already and, if given more responsibility, likely to get even better.


4. Samuel Eto?o (Barcelona)


He?s tired of playing second fiddle to Ronaldinho and with good reason. If he were anywhere else, people would be writing odes and sonnets to him. Eto?o is freakishly quick, an outstanding finisher, with a supernatural eye for goal. Plus, he?s happy to do the dirty work when the other side have possession. Just make sure you continue to massage his ego.


3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)


In the P.C. era (pre-Cristiano) wingers were slight, nippy and small. He redefined the position marrying size and brawn with pace and trickery. You get the sense that, when he?s running at defenders, he could go around them or straight through them. As an added bonus, he?s also an aerial threat on set pieces.


2. Ronaldinho (Barcelona)


There?s a reason he?s always smiling. You?d be smiling all the time too if you knew that you were the best player on the pitch and you were about to make some poor defender look a jackass. He is the poster child for Brazilian football, the proud heir of those who came before him. He didn?t adapt to the European game, he forced it to adapt to him. Put him on the team sheet, sit back and enjoy the show.


1. Kaka (Milan)


The top four are incredibly tight, but he just edges it for one simple reason: he combines Brazilian flair with European directness like nobody else. He truly is a product of two footballing cultures, a man who has all the virtues and none of the vices of either. Speaking of vices, he really, really doesn?t have any. A committed Christian, he announced proudly that he was a virgin on his wedding night. He likes to parade around in his favourite T-shirt, the one that reads ?I belong to Jesus? (thereby opening a whole can of worms regarding third-party ownership). And that?s another reason he tops the list - with Kaka in your team, odds are, the big fella upstairs will be on your side as well...




pretty good list, I think some players got snubbed and others are highly rated since this is coming from a british writter

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